Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang sees Walmart's plan to use more robots in its stores as a symptom of a larger problem: a march toward automation with the potential to crush the U.S. labor market.
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The retailer, which is the largest U.S. employer with about 1 million hourly workers, is adding automatons to buoy productivity and curb costs, according to a report from CNN. They will handle tasks such as scrubbing floors and scanning shipment boxes. Worker advocates, however, fear their responsibilities are likely to grow as they become more sophisticated.
“We are in the midst of the greatest winner-take-all economy in world history,” Yang, who has repeatedly warned of a "trickle-up" system that benefits the rich at the expense of others, told FOX Business on Friday. “This will only accelerate as artificial intelligence leaves the labs and transforms industries and companies. The best path forward is to make us all shareholders in the progress and innovation of the 21st century through a Freedom Dividend for all American adults.”
That dividend, consisting of a payment of $1,000 a month for every American adult, is a cornerstone of his platform.
“We are in the midst of the greatest winner-take-all economy in world history. This will only accelerate as artificial intelligence leaves the labs and transforms industries and companies. The best path forward is to make us all shareholders in the progress and innovation of the 21st century through a Freedom Dividend for all American adults.”
Walmart isn't the first company to take advantage of robotic assistants: Retailers such as grocery store Stop & Shop have been using them over the past year to handle tasks such as cleaning up messes or providing assistance for shoppers.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer's plan will reduce the hours that workers spend on rote tasks and reduce Walmart's staff over time, according to the CNN report. Rival Target, with 350,000 employees, has no similar plan. Executives there told CNN that "the human touch still really matters."
Neither Target nor Walmart responded to a request for comment from FOX Business on Friday. Some 82 percent of Americans believe robots will do much of the work currently done by humans by 2050, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center.
The impact may be significant, according to a report in March 2017 from Daron Acemoglu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University.
“According to our estimates, one more robot per thousand workers reduces the employment to population ratio by about 0.18 to 0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25 to 0.5 percent,” the report said. “The negative effects we estimate are both interesting and perhaps somewhat surprising, especially because they indicate a very limited set of offsetting employment increases in other industries and occupations.”